Vision Quest

Vision QuestScripture Text:  John 12: 20-33

 20Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. 27“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

 

In some Native American cultures, a vision quest is a rite of passage, a time of coming of age. In many tribes, a vision quest requires that a person spend at least four to five days secluded in nature, in the wilderness, so to speak. During that time, the person participates in what is characterized as deep spiritual communion. It is a time of transition, perhaps of “finding oneself”. It is a time of finding one’s direction, a turning toward who one is supposed to be.

 

We know this Scripture passage well. It is the point where Jesus metaphorically, if not literally, turns toward the Cross. It is the point where Jesus begins walking and beckons others to follow, to let go of all to which they are holding and follow. But I think I have often sort of skipped over the first two verses. What an odd interplay. Greeks, outsiders, come to worship at the festival. Now I guess you could assume that they were Jewish if they were coming to worship. But they are still not part of Jesus’ inner circle. And they head right up to Philip. The passage makes it clear that Philip, too, was on some level an “outsider”. He was from Bethsaida, the “house of fishing”, the place on the Galilean Lake where Jesus had probably called him to follow, along with some of the other disciples. And to Philip, the Greek questors make their request: “We wish to see Jesus.”

 

On the surface, it is a simple enough request. But when you consider that they were Greeks, accustomed to knowledge and learning, probably used to the more pragmatic way of looking at things, the notion of “seeing” Jesus is interesting. And there is no answer given. Jesus goes right into laying out what is about to happen. Maybe the idea is that wishing to see is a way of seeing, that desiring to be close to Jesus brings one closer, that one’s awakening to Jesus’ Passion is what brings one into it.

 

What if this season of Lent became our vision quest? What if here in the wilderness that leads to the Cross, where our plans go awry and we are at the mercy of circumstances that we cannot seem to control to our liking, we see life, we see Jesus, we see ourselves in a different way? What would it mean here, in a place to which we are unaccustomed, we were to ask to see Jesus—not just assume that Jesus is there, not just walk through Passion and Holy Week the way we always have, but to truly, in the deepest part of our being, desire to see Jesus, to know Jesus (not the Jesus that picks us up, not the Jesus who we like to call our brother or our friend or whatever word implies a close friendship, but the Jesus who has turned and walked away toward the Cross and now beckons us to follow.)? Now is the time. Now is the time for your own vision quest.

 

Every question in life is an invitation to live with a touch more depth, a breath more meaning. (Joan Chittister)

FOR TODAY:  Go on a vision quest.  Learn to see anew.  Wish, in the deepest part of your being, to see Jesus—not the one that you’ve been so comfortable seeing, but the one who beckons to you to follow.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Seeing in a New Light

Reflexion of a lunar path in water.Scripture Text:  Psalm 85: 8-13

Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts. Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky. The Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase. Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps.

 

We’ve talked a lot about waiting and preparation, about opening ourselves to what God holds for us.  For what are we preparing though?  Well, of course, for the coming of God’s Kingdom in its fullness.  But what does that look like.  Today’s psalter is a good depiction–steadfast, unconditional love intersecting with faithfulness, becoming faithfulness; righteousness and peace being so close that they touch, linking and embracing.  The fullness is pervasive–from the ground to the sky.  The land, all of creation, will finally be what it is meant to be and the way, already prepared, will be found to be paved with righteousness.  So how does that fit into today’s world?  In this world filled with heartache and poverty, with the recent race riots exploding throughout our nation, with the fear of war or terrorism all over the globe, and with humanity’s fear of deadly disease as it leaps the oceans’ edges, how do we see love and faithfulness, peace and righteousness.  How do we see that pathway on which God can break through?

 

The truth is, a good part of faith includes a little imagination.  It has to do with letting ourselves look beyond where we are, with learning to see things in a different light. The French Impressionist painter, Claude Monet, is probably best known for his incredible landscapes and works of nature as well as for his paintings of those things that were a normal part of his own life. But the most fascinating part of Monet’s work are those paintings that he did as part of several series representing similar or even the same subjects—his own incredible gardens, poppy fields, a woman with a parasol, and those unusual haystacks.

 

The paintings in this series of haystacks were painted under different light conditions at different times of day. Monet would rise before dawn, paint the first canvas for half an hour, by which time the light had changed. Then he would switch to the second canvas, and so on. The next day and for days and months afterward, he would repeat the process. In each painting, the color of the haystack is different not because it is a different haystack, but because the amount and quality of the light shining on the haystack is different. The subject is the same but the perspective from which it is viewed changes with the light.  Up until this time, color was thought to be an intrinsic property of an object, such as weight or density. In other words, oranges were orange and lemons were yellow, with no variation as to the lens through which they were viewed. But with Monet’s studies in light and how it affects our view of life, that all changed. As Monet once said, “the subject is of secondary importance to me; what I want to reproduce is that which is in between the subject and me.” Monet’s study was one in seeing things differently.  Beyond just painting the subject that was in front of him, he began to paint the light that illumined it.

 

You see, as we walk through the Advent, the light changes.  The dawn is just beginning to break.  Can you see it?  Aren’t things beginning to look a little different?  That’s the whole idea.  Maybe rather than waiting for the glory of God to come, we are called to begin to see the world as it is illumined by the coming light.  God is in our midst.  God’s glory surrounds us.  What would it mean for us to begin to imagine the world bathed in its light?

 

For the enlightened few, the world is always lit. (Scott Russell Sanders)

 

FOR TODAY:  Look toward the light.  See the world differently.  Be light.

 

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

 

When Doubts Seep In

Seeing Through the FogScripture Text:  John 20: 19-29 (Easter 2A)

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”  A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Well, it’s the 2nd Sunday after Easter, so it must be Doubting Thomas Sunday!  We read it every year.  We read of the disciples in hiding and the return of the Risen Christ, offering them the chance to see.  And part of the story is Thomas refusing to believe, refusing to accept that this really WAS Jesus.  You have to wonder what the disciples were thinking locked behind the door of their house. Was their grief just so unbearable that they couldn’t do anything else?  Were they afraid that they would be next? Were they disillusioned that things had turned out that way? Were they feeling remorse or guilt or shame at the parts that they had played (or not played, as the case may be) in the Passion Play? I suppose it’s possible that they were a little afraid of the rumors that Jesus HAD returned. After all, what would he say to THEM?  I mean, it wasn’t like they had been stellar examples of devoted followers the last few days!  But that’s not what happened. Things were going to be OK. Jesus was back. The disciples rejoiced. Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit into them. They were sent. They became the community of Christ. And so I supposed they went off merrily praising God and being who they were called to be. This is a premise for discipleship. Jesus offered light and truth through his relationship with God. Now the disciples are called to offer light and truth through their relationship with Christ. All except Thomas. Poor Thomas. He wanted to see proof. Why couldn’t he just believe?

Personally, I think we give Thomas a bad wrap—after all, for some reason, he missed what the others had seen. (It is interesting that he was apparently the only one who had ventured outside!  It appears the others were just hiding out.) He just wanted the same opportunity—and Jesus gave that to him. He wanted to experience it. The point was that the Resurrection is not a fact to be believed, but an experience to be shared–whatever that means for us. And perhaps, part of that experience is doubt. Constructive doubt is what forms the questions in us and leads us to search and explore our own faith understanding. It is doubt that compels us to search for greater understanding of who God is and who we are as children of God.

Hans Kung is a Swiss-born theologian and writer. He says it like this: Doubt is the shadow cast by faith. One does not always notice it, but it is always there, though concealed. At any moment it may come into action. There is no mystery of the faith which is immune to doubt. Isn’t that a wonderful thought? Doubt is the shadow cast by faith. Faith in the resurrection does not exclude doubt, but takes doubt into itself. It is a matter of being part of this wonderful community of disciples not because God told us to but because our doubts bring us together. Examining our faith involves doubts, it requires us to learn the questions to ask. And it is in the face of doubt that our faith is born. God does not call us to a blind, unexamined faith, accepting all that we see and all that we hear as unquestionable truth; God instead calls us to an illumined doubt, through which we search and journey toward a greater understanding of God.

Frederick Buechner preached a sermon on this text entitled “The Seeing Heart”. In it, he reminds us of Thomas’ other name, the “Twin”. It was never really clear why he was called that, but Buechner says that “if you want to know who the other twin is, I can tell you. I am the other twin and, unless I miss my guess, so are you.” He goes on to say this: I don’t know of any story in the Bible that is easier to imagine ourselves into that this one from John’s Gospel because it is a story about trying to believe in Jesus in a world that is as full of shadows and ambiguities and longings and doubts and glimmers of holiness as the room where the story takes place is and as you and I are inside ourselves…To see Jesus with the heart is to know that in the long run his kind of life is the only life worth living. To see him with the heart is not only to believe in him but little by little to become bearers to each other of his healing life until we become fully healed and whole and alive within ourselves. To see him with the heart is to take heart, to grow true hearts, brave hearts, at last. (“The Seeing Heart”, by Frederic Buechner, in Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons)

The truth is, doubt is a normal and expected part of faith.  Our faith is not a list of checkboxes that we just check off as we believe.  It is not a static list of what we should think or what we should know.  There is always another question after the answer or the answer just falls flat.  The questions make the answers come alive.  The questions are what open our eyes to see the Risen Christ.  And that sight is not some sort of pat, boiler plate type of sighting.  This passage shows us that Jesus shows us what we need and that we need what Jesus shows us.  It is different for everyone.  So Thomas needed something a little more tactile, something he could really hold.  Is that so bad?  I think most of us would have to admit that that might make this whole thing a little bit easier to grasp for all of us!  But maybe it’s not supposed to be easy.  Maybe faith is such that the questions should never end.  So what do we do when doubts seep in?  Go with it.  Ask more questions.  Live into the doubts.  Maybe the Truth is not in front of our face but just beyond the fog.

Contradictions have always existed in the soul of man. But it is only when we prefer analysis to silence that they become a constant and insoluble problem. We are not meant to resolve all contradictions but to live with them. (Thomas Merton)

Journey with your doubts and keep asking questions.  Faith is not about certainty but about the journey toward meaning and Truth, a journey with God.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli